By Catherine Poher
For more than 20 years I have tried to address my theatre plays to human beings and not to adult or children with the intention to avoid the split between generations. This approach has not been an artistic question only. It is also a political attitude. It is a reaction to the social structure, which we have become used to.
Children have slowly been separated from the adult world in the western world since the 1700th century. They were in most places considered as small adult. Today children are considered as a group totally apart from the adults and from the adult world, which will not open to them before they have received a salary and have become consumers. They are trained to become competitive and effective adults. Many children dress and behave like grown ups and dream of becoming adults as quickly as possible, even though they today remain economical, emotional and psychological dependent of the parents for an increasing period of their life.
The myth of a happy childhood?
The myth of a happy childhood has been flowering and has reached gigantic dimensions. Special industries dealing with production of toys, food and candy for kids have been created. Not to mention industries for children films, – theatre, – television and – music. Children are today an important target group for marketing in the global race for more consumption.
Today children must represent the living incarnation of happiness. Bad tempered and confused children do not fit the myth and are marginalized in groups for problem children. The myth is important to maintain for parents who do not live a rewarding life. They dream of giving their children a childhood that symbolize happiness, while they themselves have a hard stressful life without time for their children. They train the children to look and behave like small innocent angles to preserve the illusion. They protect them and do not talk about serious mattes in their presence. Children are not supposed to be bored or to take on responsibility in the family or to use intellectual or physical muscle on experiences, which could be a challenge – like art.
There seems to be very few moments in the everyday life of parents and children to have common experiences or time to discover new things together – time to experience art together, where common wonders could be exploited and developed. Parents and the society seem to neglect the importance of art as a major tool to educate or form the child to become a person. It is well known that art making or knowledge of art makes us critical i.e. makes us react, rewrite, reinvent and mature us, which will help us to understand life and make us produce new visions, connections and networks in the world.
What is art?
Art provoke in me a longing for being in another place or just an aspiration. It makes me remember that life is not just the everyday. The “place” in me, which comes into contact with art, is related to the child in me. When the child is awake and the ever-flowing thoughts are stopped, the bodily sensations takes over and the experience of the world becomes much more clear. Like the first almost shocking experiences of the world children have (the first time you saw the sea, tasted chocolate or smelled a flower). I believe that the experience of art is in the intensity of this pure search we undertook, when we had the first experiences of the world. To be confronted with art brings me back to myself. During this very short period of time I may feel immortal, as a child and an adult at the same time. Time has no effect and the experiences give me access to places in me where existential problems prevail. It is also a sort of energy, which most artists try to channel through or open up for in their art. In such moments we have an option to reconcile with the world, to be part of it and not to be in an observing or controlling position. By awaking the child in us we seems to be able to heal our wounds and disappointments. It makes us want to live.
Theatre for everybody
In my cooperation with the Danish theatre group, Theatre Rio Rose, we have worked on the basis of the above ideas and approaches.
We are far from the theatre, which presents the actor in his glory or gives sovereignty to the text. We are much closer to the child who tiers of paper from a wrapped gift. We have understood that the children are much more receptive to theatre, which we have created for adults, than we thought. They seem to have much more direct contact with our performance, which is associative and not realistic, than their parents. Most adults wish to understand with logic or they find it difficult to accept emotions and experiences, which they might not be able to manage or control.
Due to reactions from children we understand more about the relationship between the actions on the stage and the audience. We have tried to develop an esthetical and abstract language without loosing the presence and the connection to the ordinary life. Children reject instinctively constructed chain of thoughts, cold and distant aesthetics as well as the none-generosity. They are not a polite audience, which does not react, if they are bored.
We started our work in 1985 with a research in theatrical language – an exercise in emotional grammar. We worked with movements, actions, images, rhythm to give form and shape to the invisible. We try to give the audience the possibility “to look in the mirror” in such a way that there is a direct connection between the audience and the theatrical expression.
The performance is also a meeting between participants. Actors, dancers, clowns, painters, musicians etc. are not supposed to find a theatrical language or system, but rather a unique language as a result of their meeting. Together they create actions, dances or images that through a montage develops into a performance. A piece of life.
A proposal to share wonders
In my theatre performances we do not try to simplify what is complicated, which is normally done in order to meet the “level of the children”. On the contrary, we share our own interest and our own search, questions, happiness and sorrows with the audience. I try in each performance to find the essence of the theme or subject we work with and to experience moments of wonders. I know that if I get that experience myself, it can be shared with the audience – children as well as adults – an experience of togetherness.
Catherine Poher is a French free-lance theatre director and artist living in Denmark.